Monday, March 3, 2014

Lost 80s Gems #1: "Am I Normal?" - David

This is a recurring feature which will look at obscure 80s records which I find interesting, even if no-one else will!

And I'm kicking off with a bizarre, synth-laden belter: "Am I Normal?" by David.

Which, when you hear it, will inspire the following response: "No, quite the opposite!".

Because this is a really offbeat record.

There were fears in the 1980s that we would reach a point where computers would write and create pop music without any human intervention.

Well, these scaremongers clearly weren't listening to Radio 1 in 1983, because "Am I Normal?" sounds like it was created by a crazed sentient supercomputer.

First off, we have the singer, David. But David isn't a bloke; it's actually Virginia David, formerly the singer with 70s band Sailor. Channeling the vocodered-Cher 15 years ahead of "Believe", David's detached vocals are quite underplayed compared to the rest of the record.

Including the lyrics. They are utterly ridiculous. I swear, you have never heard the like. I am not exaggerating - they are literally gibberish. Here are some extracts:

"Comes alive / Driving auto fast / Exhastavent"

WHOA STOP!!! WHAT???

Yes, "exhastavent"! No OED entry for that whopper! What does it even mean?

And it continues:

"Loves to drive / Shifts away from that / What's got her pend?"

PEND??? WHAT IS A "PEND"???

Now this isn't a case of me mishearing, nor is it a case of me just pulling some inaccurate lyrics from the internet -- these are printed on the back cover!

Exhastavent!!!! WTF!!!

So, god knows what the song is about. But that's not David's fault; it's not her composition - her record is a cover of the 1980 original by Eye To Eye.

Thing is, David bucks the trend, as her cover is better than the original; thanks no doubt to the typically bombastic efforts of producer Andy Hill, better known as the principal songwriter and producer of Bucks Fizz.

Now it's easy to forget, given the arguably tacky image The Fizz have, that they had a run of fairly robust singles in 1982/3, in terms of song structure and tricksy production.

And with "Am I Normal?", Hill pulled out every trick in the book (or Fairlight manual if you prefer). I mentioned that the record sounds like it had been created by a computer; this is no slight on Hill, as for 1983 it was a very futuristic record. But the track is so demented, it sounds like it was a nightmare that Hal 3000 had whilst his memory banks were shutting down in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Robotic vocals: CHECK. Phasing: CHECK. Reversed vocals: CHECK. Fluttering synth-line: CHECK. Rattling drum machine: CHECK. Barmy sound effects: CHECK. Horn stabs: CHECK.

It all sounds like it'd be a complete mess. And perhaps to some ears it is. But bloody hell, it's got some welly. Hill's other productions at this time were equally bombastic, with elaborate drum tracks banging away, but he took it to a whole new level here.

Although it was playlisted on Radio 1, it wasn't a hit, and, putting aside the fact it was released on a small label, I can kind of see why it wasn't a hit. In a chart dominated by Duran, Spandau, Culture Club and, er, Jimmy the Hoover, "Am I Normal?" was simply too leftfield a pop record to break through.

Which is a shame. I'm rather fond of it; it's very much a product of its time, but I like the fact that such an eerie electronic record has such an impressive horn section.

As you'd expect, "Am I Normal?" by David is out of print; no CD or digital release is available, leaving a second-hand vinyl purchase as your only option. However, so you can make your own mind up, here's a link to the extended mix via YouTube.



Exhastavent!

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